witness statement

name: Karen Anstee
section: Employment
for: The Defence
experience: McDonald's employee


Looking back there are three words that best describe my impression of the McDonalds working environment - unsafe, dehumanising and manipulative.


Worked at the McDonalds in Southgate, North London, July 1986 and June 1987, part time.

Student at the Royal Academy of Music: orchestral violinist.

Full cv: (not available for this witness)

full statement:


After viewing a student video made in 1989 on the subject of the fast food industry in which I was featured. London Greenpeace has asked me to make a statement about my experience as a McDonalds employee.

I am not nor have I ever been a member of London Greenpeace. I have no prior knowledge of this organising save that it too contributed in the making of the afore mentioned video. My views are therefore not necessarily those of London Greenpeace.

I worked at the McDonalds in Southgate, North London between July 1986 and June 1987 on a part time basis during my final year as a student at the Royal Academy of Music. The following is an accurate and true statement based solely on my experiences working at McDonalds during period.

Looking back there are three words that best describe my impression of the McDonalds working environment - unsafe, dehumanising and manipulative.


At all times there are grills at extremely high temperatures and vats of boiling oil all around the worker. This together with the high speeds at which one is expected to work leads to accidents. Many employees had burn scars, particularly on their lower arms.

On my first day at work I was trained to cook 'Quarter Pounders'. At one point in the process I was required to take the hot burger off the grill with a spatula and then use my bare fingers to hold it on as I drained the fat off it. I was also required to take a cloth and wipe it over the grill between batches of burgers. For both safety and hygiene reasons I felt that protection for the hands and wrists should have been a part of the uniform.


Everything about the working environment at McDonalds seemed geared to dehumanising the work force, turning the employees into no more than an efficient part of the machinery.

In most working environment conversation is a normal part of the average day but this is most definitely not the case at McDonalds. Every part of the process of creating the product is governed by language specific to that process. The employees spend their day repeating the same phrases over and over again. I soon discovered that even if one used a phrase that meant the same as the accepted McDonalds jargon, for example "The Macs are ready" instead of "Macs up!" that the employees no longer responded. The repetitive steps and language that must be adhered to the fast pace that must be maintained and the endless beeping of machines makes for a high stress atmosphere. When you add to this the constant shouting of the often aggressive managers it is hard to maintain any sense of individuality.

I generally worked at the till where I was often reprimanded by my manager who kept us all under constant surveillance for straying from the appropriate responses to given situations. I felt uncomfortable with the obligatory suggestive selling, the repetitive "Good morning Sir, can I help you?". "Enjoy your meal and have a nice day!" and constant smiling that were required but found myself complying under the pressure. At one point I began to find that I had to make a huge effort not to automatically greet my friends with "Good evening, can I help you?"


It seemed to me that both the customer and emplyee were the victims of manipulation.

At the till I was McDonalds' tool in the manipulation of the customer. I was expected to present the constant friendly, smiling face of McDonalds whilst sugesstive-selling in the meantime. I was required to always suggest an addition to their order and, if it were a drink or fries, ask "Is that large, medium or small?". We were also told to make sure that there was alot of salt on the fries as this would make the customer buy more beverages.

As an employee one was also manipulated. For each hour worked one got credit towards food which you could eat during your break. On the surface this seemed like a good deal but when you discover that you are not supposed to bring any other food onto the premisis it becomes a removal of individual choice. The full time workers that I knew often subsisted on nothing other that what McDonalds produced.

The event that stood out most as manipulative was a meeting in central London that delegations from many branches were asked to attend. At this meeting we were talked to by three representatives from head office. The meeting took place in a darkened lecture hall with a large McDonalds logo over the speakers and a screen to the side of them onto which photographs of many happy, smiling McDonalds employees were projected throughout the talk. McDonalds at the time was hoping to be excluded from a new law that would zone them as snack bars rather than restaurants. They told us that this would damage their chances of getting a McDonalds on every high street, as they planned to do. We were asked to write to our MPs and persuade members of the public to sign petitions so that McDonalds would not be victimised in this fashion. Those in the audience who attempted to question the validity of the stance that the McDonalds representatives were taking were unable to get answers to their questions and were ignored when they attempted to pursue the matter. It was an unnerving experience to be a witness to this event and I was glad that I, unlike so many other emyloyees, had an alternative career ahead of me.

The occasion that brought all the above crashing together for me during my employment at McDonalds was the day that a burst water pipe caused a flood in the work area of our branch. The water came rushing through the ceiling above the work area and there was soon at least a quarter inch of water over the entire area. I was working at the till that day but covered the making of the fries whilst the employees normally responsible tried to mop up the water. The manager did not stop us from working despite the treacherous conditions and the employees did not stop working. I myself continued to work around the vats of boiling fat regardless of the situation. It was only after about twenty minutes that I suddenly woke up and realised the danger in which I was putting myself by continuing to try and keep uy with the normal output.

I was horrified that I and my companions had become so much a part of the machine that we thought nothing of our safety.

Eventually the manager was forced to close for the day but the initial reaction of both manager and employees was one that made a lasting impression upon me. It seemed that if I, a violinist who then went on to a career playing professionally in an orchestra, could become so deadened by the McDonalds environment that I would risk my future by ignoring such obvious dangers then it was an unhealthy, dehumanising environment that all the employess were working in. I do not consider that by virtue of my musical talent, my safely was of any more importance than that of any other employee but that every McDonalds emyloyee should be safe and allowed to maintain a sense of their individuality.

date signed: 26 July, 1993
status: Statement read out
references: Not applicable/ available

exhibits: Not applicable/ available

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